Romantic comedies don’t have a particularly good reputation for being empowering for women. You know how it goes. The female lead is chasing after/pining over a bloke, until he finally ‘sees’ her, they kiss in the rain and her life is complete. But Notting Hill, which turned 20 this week (TWENTY!), is one of the few to break that mould.
Movie star Anna Scott, played by Julia Roberts, is the one with the money and power, next to foppish bookshop employee William (Hugh Grant). It’s Anna shaping the relationship from the moment they bump into each other – literally – on the streets of the London suburb. She plants the first kiss, and the second, she turns down his first invitation back to his flat, she creeps downstairs to, erm, chat when she spends the night.
And off camera, Roberts was exercising that same agency. In the two decades since the film’s release, snapshots have emerged that show that some of its most feminist moments happened behind the scenes.
1. Julia Roberts called out sexist casting decisions.
Notting Hill’s writer/director Richard Curtis was forced to confront his own sexism when casting the role of Jeff, Anna’s husband.
“I remember feeling ashamed when we were trying to cast Julia Roberts’s husband in Notting Hill and she pointed out that everyone on our list was at least 20 years older than her,” Curtis told The Independent. “The reverse would never be true.”
The role was ultimately played by Alec Baldwin who is 10 years Roberts’ senior. Hey, we’ll take it.
2. She upped her (fictional) salary.
The dinner scene (quite possibly the most underrated of the entire movie, just quietly) features an awkward exchange between Anna Scott and Bernie, played by a young Hugh Bonneville, known better these days as Robert Crawley from Downton Abbey.
After being introduced to the actor, the moping stock trader – who somehow fails to recognise her as THE Anna Scott – laments how little actors typically get paid. When he probes her on how much she earned for her last film, she replies bluntly, “$15 million”.
Bonneville later revealed to The Huffington Post, that that figure (which actually matched Roberts’ real-life salary for the film) wasn’t in the script.